Joe Wahome shares his candid moments at Manda Bay, a barefoot heaven with a myriad of water-sports to engage in. From chasing sunsets to taking up a mini safari, Manda Bay is a true gem in Lamu.
Photographs: Brian Siambi
Our plane touched down at the Manda Airport at 11 am and the humid Lamu air welcomed us as we were getting our bags. The flight to Lamu was packed and I was even more impressed to see the departures lounge full of passengers as several airlines plied the route.
The jetty was extremely busy with a handful of boats from the different resorts waiting for their clients. This was typical Lamu, the come-back kid who rises even after several ill-thought-out travel advisories and skewed media coverage by the international press.
Our hosts Manda Bay had organized a speed boat for the scenic boat drive through the shallow creeks surrounded by a thick mangrove forest. The new Lamu port construction was underway to the North West and one berth was already complete.
Thirty minutes later we got to our destination and Shan the manager was there to meet us. He gave us a brief overview of the lodge from the white sandy beach. There were a couple of boats anchored near the beach including the famous MV Cheza, a 33 foot diesel powered boat for real deep sea fishing.
Just to fit in and pay homage to Manda Bay as it had been for years, I removed my socks and Chelsea Boots to enjoy this little bare-foot heaven and never felt as relaxed. The dining area, bar and lounge were beautifully positioned to catch the breeze, elevated with views of the beach and boats arriving and departing.
There are 16 beautiful cottages built in Swahili style- with wood and thatch, high roofs, sides that are open for ventilation and Swahili décor. 11 cottages are right on the sea front with 5 cottages set slightly behind and in-between the sea front rooms, all surrounded by coconut palms. The views are magical from the elevated ground. 2 sun beds are placed in-front and outside each cottage for the sun worshipers. The clincher is a swing bed under the verandah that I spent every afternoon after lunch just building castles in the air and enjoying the balmy breeze.
The cottages have a huge double bed or two generous twin beds, a sitting area, a bathroom with 2 sinks, as well as a shower with hot and cold water. There is also a wall-to-wall coconut palm matting on the floor which gives all the cottages that fitting Swahili feel.
Fuzz Dyer and Andy Roberts bought Manda Bay in 2003 from an Italian family who had settled there in the early 60’s. After buying a fishing boat they thought that creating a fishing haven would also make the investment worthy. Manda Bay ticked all the boxes and they have never looked back. All their children were brought up here, fishing, swimming, eating healthy and having the best time of their lives.
Lunch was buffet style and Andy and his wife Caragh joined us. We had the freshest prawn peri peri, steamed rice, bread and pan cakes over hearty conversations. The lodge occupancy has steadily improved and business in the Lamu archipelago is showing signs of returning to its former glory.
Andy regaled us with tales from his childhood while growing up in Baringo with his brother Willie. He told us of Willie’s truancy and running away from home when he was 13 years old because he didn’t like school and how Willie was the driving force in the Mara, to start the first conservancy on public land. Willie had converted his farm on the edge of the Mara into a conservancy so as to help the local Masai gain income from tourism revenue. It was a difficult task in the 80’s but the late President Daniel Moi, who was there neighbour in Baringo, helped him out as this conservation model had not been done in Kenya before.
Later in the afternoon we went for deep sea fishing with Said the guide. Said is an experienced guide who hails from Kiwayu, a bit further north from Manda Bay. His father had been a fisherman. Being my first time into the deep sea, I had taken some sea sickness medication fearing the worst.
On my first try I caught a Giant trevally weighing about 6 kgs. I struggled reeling it in as the feisty fish put up a mighty fight. After the customary photo with the fish we let it go. Said told us that in order to keep the ecosystem healthy, they practice catch and release and tag-release for the billfish. One of the fish tagged here had been caught off the shores of Australia in the Pacific Ocean, Said informed us.
Brian was equally as lucky and caught 3 small fish in quick succession. The biggest fish to be caught here was a marlin on the MV Cheza and it put on a day long fight. It weighed an amazing 500 Kgs. The guest who caught it cried and has been a repeat guest ever since.
We went back happy and ready for a sundowner hosted by Andy, Caragh and Shan. Together with their 3 dogs, we all hopped into the old open Land Rover for a mini safari drive. About a kilometer from the resort and just near the airstrip, we met a herd of about 30 buffaloes at a temporary waterhole waiting for staffers to bring them water.
The backstory is that the “Mkanda” or canal between the mainland and the island was very shallow and the wildlife would cross on a low tide between the two. However, about 10 years ago , this channel was dredged. This along with a population increase on the mainland dissuaded the buffalo from returning to the mainland during the dry season. Consequently, the buffaloes became reliant on Manda for water.
Andy lets us know that elephants used to frequent the Island too. This is the reason why the island has thick forests as there are no longer elephants to clear most of the vegetation. Andy’s team is now tasked with trimming some of the bush. The Sundowner spot is a beautiful elevated land with extremely picturesque views of the Indian Ocean. We took it all in over drinks.
On our way to the sundowner spot we passed by the Takwa ruins, a 15th and 16th century trading town that was abandoned in the 17th century after lack of fresh water and constant wars between Takwa and Pate. The ruins are well preserved and parts of the Friday Mosque are still standing. It was gazetted in 1982 as a national monument.
Dinner was always by the beach, under the stars with the ocean’s rising tide as a soundtrack. Lantern-lit tables were spread across the beach and a set menu consisting of fresh sea-food, home-made desserts and an endless supply of wine and gin and tonic. It was enjoyable to the last bite. A huge dhow had anchored off the beach ready for the next day’s party and Andy proudly told us that they would be fully booked for the next few days.
I live for sunsets and I have experienced some pretty impressive ones on safari and at Shela Beach, but sunsets at Manda Bay are exceptionally beautiful at low tide. Quaint moments on a beach stretch of over a kilometer, just you, the beach and the sun and an occasional stray dog wanting you to play catch with it.
Manda Bay is a haven for watersports and especially for beginners. They have banana boats, screamers, sail boats, kayaks, water skis, wake boards and snorkelling equipment with a team to teach you the basics. My colleague Brian, a water sports fan enjoyed swimming and snorkelling at the creek. Our host Caragh put on a show at the water ski as she glided across the water expertly.
As we left Manda Bay to the airport on a speedboat we saw lots of boats and dhows filled with tourists as they set to explore the vast Lamu archipelago. This was the resilience that Lamu was all about.
Manda Bay are offering a 25% discount off the resident rates if you quote ‘Nomad’ when making the booking. Email firstname.lastname@example.org to make a reservation.